LYON, France—Already a busy chef, Régis Marcon, owner of the Michelin star-rated restaurant Le Clos des Cimes, has been involved in an ambitious project: creating the International City of Gastronomy hosted within Lyon, itself recognized as the gastronomic capital of France, and by some accounts, Europe.
The project focuses on the connection between food and health, and facilitates discussion on healthy and eco-friendly food of tomorrow. It also showcases the role gastronomy plays in the world.
“For example, we were considering to showcase Japan. You would be seeing Japanese cooking demonstrations, and you’d learn about Japan’s gastronomy history,” explained Marcon, who chairs the committee overseeing the project.
Attendees would have opportunities to attend workshops and demonstrations and enjoy different kinds of food.
The International City of Gastronomy (ICG) will be divided into three main parts: an immersive museum, a temporary exhibition area, and a hub where people can meet and talk about gastronomy and topics related to food and health.
- “Most of all, we will hold talks and events about food and nutrition,” said Marcon.
The ICG will be hosted on the site of a former health facility-turned-luxury hotel, Grand Hôtel-Dieu, which was first built in medieval times. The site was extended in the 18th century by the French architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot.
“Talking about food and nutrition in a former hospital makes so much sense,” Marcon said lightheartedly.
The project was initially supposed to be completed in 2017, but the completion date has shifted a number of times. The latest projected opening is for the fall of 2019.
All Under One Roof
Museum-like places for food exhibition already exist, but for Pierre Sanner, director of France’s heritage and food culture mission, “Lyon’s original idea has no equivalent anywhere else in the world.”
Sanner has been one of the pioneers supporting the project after UNESCO’s inclusion of the “gastronomic meal of the French” on the list of intangible cultural heritage in 2010.
“Museum of Food And Drink in Brooklyn, Mercato Centrale in Florence, the Eataly, well-known in New York, which brings together in one location Italian restaurants, delicatessen stores, workshops, a bookstore, and cuisine lessons, are all inspiring models,” said Sanner.
“But none of them bring together all the fields of expertise in gastronomy.”
For Michèle Barrière, a French gastronomy historian and novelist, it is very fitting for a French city to host such a project.
“The fact of not only doing gastronomy but also taking time to think about it, the fact that gastronomy inspires not only book recipes but also the literary and sociological field, is very French,” Barrière said.
Barrière is also a part of a committee to build an ICG, but in the Eastern city of Dijon. Along with Lyon, Tours, and Paris-Rungis, the city is part of a network of four “cities of gastronomy” in France. Each of the four cities will be hosting their own ICG, each with a main theme. In the case of Lyon, which is the largest project of the four, the focus is on health and food.
Barrière insists that there is a difference between French gastronomy and French cuisine.
“A gastronomic meal refers to the specific moment when families sit down together to enjoy a meal that has been served, with a particular succession of dishes, a menu with wine pairing, plus the fact people talk of gastronomy while eating,” she said.
“This whole tradition doesn’t exist anywhere else except in France, and can define a gastronomic meal.”
For All to Enjoy
For his part, Marcon views gastronomy as an activity that all can enjoy.
“Today, for many people gastronomy equals fancy and expensive restaurants, whereas it refers to the pleasure you take from eating a fresh product—a fine sandwich, or pizza,” he said.
“It’s something everyone can experience, it’s universal. And this is precisely why we want Lyon’s International City to welcome everyone.”
He said the City of Gastronomy can be a real chance for all food lovers and industry players to meet and “build something better.”
“Everyone is talking about the dangers of glyphosate. What’s the point of just waiting and staring at each other? The objective is to talk in order to discover how to create the healthiest and most eco-friendly food possible.”